bioneers-cel-book2005Edited by Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (2005; Sierra Club Books)

Review by Jaimie P. Cloud

This spectacular collection of essays by Fritjof Capra, Wendell Berry, Alice Waters, David Orr and Donella Meadows, to name just a few, is woven together with stories of the editors’ own journeys, over time, educating for sustainability. The book is organized into a system of four interdependent parts: Vision, Tradition/Place, Relationship, and Action. The reader can experience the book sequentially or can enter at any point and travel back and forth between the parts and between each essay and story. No matter where you enter, the book hangs together as a unified whole.
The editors have skillfully selected the authors and their essays to convey the essence of each of the four parts of book and have simultaneously used the essays to communicate the learning process in which they themselves have been engaged. Here’s just one of many examples:

“As we immersed ourselves in the life of communities and ecosystems, important strategies began to emerge. Through our collaboration with STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed) we became aware of a nationwide phenomenon: family farms on the urban edge were going out of business for want of a market. We also knew that city kids around the San Francisco Bay were going to school hungry. On a map of regional problems, we highlight urban fringe farms at risk, malnutrition, solid waste generated by students throwing away their lunches, underachievement, and vandalism. See these all together on the map, we recognized them not as isolated problems, but parts of one overarching problem of disconnection: of rural communities from urban life, of food from people’s understanding of its origins, of health from the environment — and of problems from the patterns that perpetuate them.”

Both living systems and learning develop over time, and witnessing the congruence between the two is stunning. This book is classic and timeless.
Ecological Literacy is required reading for anyone who wants to understand what we mean when we say, “Education for Sustainability.” The core content and the habits of mind that characterize Education for Sustainability are seamlessly and elegantly communicated by many of our most revered champions in the way that only learner-centered experiential educators can do.

Jaimie P. Cloud ( is president of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education in New York City. This review originally appeared in The Communicator, the newsletter of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).